The release of results of every major public examination gives rise to a spontaneous debate on the country’s deteriorating quality of education. This year’s high level drama surrounding the Advance Level Examination through the delay of results and the discrepancies of the Z-score left O/L candidates considering whether they would have to face a similar fate. Happy are many, that the same fate did not befall the innocent 16 year olds. However it was the Minister of Education himself who sparked a new debate when he announced that passing mathematics would not be a compulsory requirement for students hoping to study in the A/L’s Arts stream. This would have been greeted with jubilations and sighs of relief by those of us who are mildly or completely affected by mild forms of Dyscalculia – a specific learning disability in learning or comprehending maths. Unfortunately this is not a plausible excuse since the learning disability affects less than 3-6% of the population. For those of us who slaved through hours of private tuition and purchased every single ‘math-made-easy’ and ‘Math for Dummies’ book, the news comes a tad bit too late. But as some may welcome the new leniency others may deem it unfair or simply disastrous for the entire system of education.
For a country which boasts of a very high quality of primary and secondary education, the leniency in math may be considered as a step back. Yet consider the fact that the Sri Lankan higher education sector is geared towards catering to the demands of the work force and employer demand. Hence could this new framework be a positive step in creating a more job oriented work force? A World Bank report on Sri Lanka’s education system stated that the country ranks poorly in Science and Math education. The report draws a contrast with India, which has a lower adult literacy rate but has been able to provide students with high quality education in these two subjects through well trained staff. One may question whether the leniency conferred by the Minister of Education is in fact a rouse to cover up the deficiencies in the country’s education system. Furthermore, by removing the ‘mandatory cap’ on math, can the country improve the below par rating on the said subject streams? The report further adds that low infrastructure facilities and teaching resources are reflected in the low mastery levels of the second language, mathematics in primary grades and in low GCE pass rates. There are uncountable amount of reports of the shortage of teachers, especially in the rural areas. However remarkably every year the number of students who pass mathematics seem to growing, slowly yet steadily. The percentage of students who passed Mathematics in 2010 was 61.6% in comparison to the 50.1% in 2009. Therefore one wonders whether the leniency has been conferred for genuine reasons or is it a way of covering up another ugly stain on the lack of systematic planning?
Those who follow A/Ls in the Arts stream have the advantage of picking from a variety of subjects; one can either pursue subjects of purely aesthetic nature or a combination of technical subjects. Many of these subjects do not require any or to be fair much of mathematical skills. In a world decorated with individuals who are differently skilled and abled it seems quite unfair to create a standard pass mark and an evaluation system which seems to consider only a few types of learning abilities. Shouldn’t individuals be evaluated according to their personal abilities? Is it possible to have such a system of evaluation or would it lead to further jeopardizing the already messed up education system?
The education system in the country undoubtedly is in need of a revamp. A bizarre fact about university students in Faculties of Humanities and Arts; they are required to follow a course in Mathematics in their first year. What purpose does this course offer for those who are pursuing studies in languages or other aesthetic subjects which do not have even an iota of a component of mathematics?
A popular English daily published a story a few years back about a girl who passed her GCE O/Levels with flying colours; six “A” passes but failed in mathematics. However she was allowed to continue in the A/L classes on the condition she would pass the subject at the next attempt. Unfortunately she couldn’t pass math in the second attempt and had to be dismissed. Her plight is unknown, but is it not unfair to make one subject a deciding factor in an individual’s learning and future? It is true that basic mathematical skills are necessary for day to day living. But on the contrary one may argue how much of what we learn in school is actually retained and put to use in day to day life? Do you use geometry and trigonometry in your day to day activities? As long as one is capable of performing the basic calculations, the purpose of education is met, I firmly believe.
However, the leniency granted will eventually lead to another issue, the lack of higher education opportunities for the students who pursue studies in the Art’s stream. The Humanities and Arts Faculties have the largest student bodies within Universities island wide. For the sake of the future generation let’s hope the Minister realizes that steps must be taken to increase the capacity of these education institutions to ensure more students get an opportunity to follow tertiary level education. Whether or not the private sector should be considered as a partner in this endeavor can be debated, but on a different forum.
It is important we remember that a successful education system should be one that focuses on ‘learning’ than ‘schooling’ and ‘memorizing’ or for that matter ‘parroting’. It should be able to cultivate creativity and lifelong learning opportunities for an individual, which will enable him/her to easily mould him/herself to fit to the demands of a dynamic world of work. If education is a universal right, should it not be created in a way that every individual is able to enjoy this right? It is necessary for the education system to be dynamic and able to accommodate a larger number of participants. I believe the Minister’s statement should be considered as a progressive step in revamping a stall wart system of education which has been in place for far too long.
Good bye Calculus and Pythagoras, oh ‘hi’ Shakespeare!
Written by Umanga Settinayake
Edited by Sunesh Rodrigo